By ERIC SCHELKOPF
After giving up a contract with Atlantic Records and moving to Israel, Lazer Lloyd has been "Rockin' in the Holy Land."
The song is from his new self-titled album, released June 9 on Chicago-based label LL Records. The album also features Kenny Coleman from The Chicago Blues Kings and the album's cover art was done by Chicago-based artist Markus Greiner.
The album's release follows the critically-acclaimed 2013 stripped-down acoustic solo album, "Lost on the Highway," and his 2012 electric CD, "My Own Blues," chosen by the Israeli Blues Society’s for best 2012 blues album.
On his recent tours in the U.S., Lloyd and Coleman have been presenting special performances for inner city kids of all ages in schools and after school programs with stories about overcoming challenges. Earlier this year, they gave a performance for the By the Hand Club for Kids in Englewood.
Lloyd will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 4 at Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago. He will return to the area on Oct. 26, when he performs at Evergreen Park High School for a benefit for the school's music department, and will perform Nov. 4 at Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 South Wabash Ave., Chicago.
I had the chance to talk to Lloyd about the new CD.
Q: Congratulations on the success of your new self-titled album. The album seems to be extremely autobiographical. Would you say the record is more personal than your previous efforts?
Lazer Lloyd: Well, many of my songs are about my life experiences and that's really the blues. This album covers it in the wider spectrum and I've passed the 30 year mark on the stage so I felt it had been time to do some more of that on a deeper level.
Q: Of course, the album was released on the Chicago-based Lots of Love Records label and the album's cover art was created by Chicago-based artist Markus Greiner. How did you hook up with him? What is it like having a label based in Chicago, the blues capital of the world?
LL: The truth is Chicago came after me and it was just destined that way. I was doing a show actually as a side man in Chicago a few years back when someone from the record company saw me play and was blown away.
They had gone to high school with Marcus. I was not happy with the previous graphic attempts because in my opinion it's as equally important as the music today, so they kept looking until they got to him and he is amazing.
Q: Earlier this year, you and Kenny Coleman from The Chicago Blues Kings - who I know plays on the new album - gave a performance for the By the Hand Club for Kids in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. I know you do performances like that for schools and the like on a regular basis. What do you hope the students get out of your performances and what do you get out of the experience?
LL: When you meet with young people, it's like going out to the forest into nature; it's untouched and you can still feel the pureness of life, you can still believe that the world is a good place and will be better through their inspiration.
I try to open up and share with them how it has been for myself and my people surviving after very challenging experiences while still having love and a true belief in the unity and goodness of the world. I want them to feel the beauty of the music inside; that it can touch other sides of your heart besides the very aggressive music that they are bombarded with on a daily basis.
Q: How did you go about choosing the musicians for the album, including Kenny on drums? What do you think he brings to the table?
LL: It was really a miracle story how we connected with Kenny. My manager was speaking with someone she had maintained contact with and one day this person just told her that she had started working for this blues record company.
From the first time Kenny heard my music he felt it was a great thing and from the first time we met we fell in love as real brothers. Besides the music, we both share a deep spiritual connection and obviously his story is more apparent than mine, but both of us have gone through serious challenges in life and have chosen not to buckle, yet to help strengthen others.
When we are playing together, I don't know how he knows when I'm going to stop and when I'm doing things on the stage, but he has an extra sense that I've never seen. Kenny is truly an amazing musician and person.
Q: On the song "Rockin' in the Holy Land" off your new album, you talk about how you began playing in Israel in the first place. What do you think about being given the title "Israel's King of the Blues?" What is Israel's blues scene like and how have you tried to nurture it?
LL: I really don't like the title because for sure I would never call myself the king and I don't consider myself only from Israel or as representing that - I'm just Lazer. I just happen to be here and connect to many things spiritually that are here and the people, but I connect to many things spiritually around the world and learn and am inspired by many people around the world; but that's the way the newspapers and media started doing it, so certain things you just have to roll with it.
Humility is the name of the game and what we are striving for and what you see in the real blues people, but I can't complain too much because it stands out and has let myself be heard I guess.
The blues in Israel is really starting to be something serious; many Israeli artists had included elements of it into the music but now you have the blues being mixed with different Middle East sounds.
I like to do that for a little bit in concert, too. People are now understanding - after all the noise and electronics and aggressive arrogant music that has plagued the last 25 years - that with simplicity and heart you don't need all those masks to feel something.
Q: I understand that you walked away from an Atlantic Records deal in choosing to go to Israel. Do you have any regrets about the decision you made?
LL: Well we need to set the record straight and people in the press like to tell it as they would think it makes the best story. I had a showcase with Atlantic Records and they were interested in me and had me make more demos; I was meeting with Toby Moffett from the A&R department and we were deciding whether to have me go down to Nashville to be produced by Gary Tallent, the bass player from the E- Street Band (Bruce Springsteen) who was now producing.
We were in discussion of where we should break the project from but I was not yet signed, I was in the process. That's when I had this strange turn of fate where I ended up in Israel.
I'm pretty sure I would've been dead by now because I was really pushing it hard in all the areas that blues rock musicians push it and probably I would have been seriously ill from one of those areas without further detail needed. Life is surfing and you never look at the wave you could've caught; your only focus is on the next wave you can catch, no regrets.
Q: As I understand, you attended a Master Class taught by B.B. King while you were earning a degree in music from Skidmore College. What did you learn from him and how did his death affect you?
LL: I saw on TV a master class by B.B. King in the middle of college while I was heavily into my 12-hour practicing sessions learning every Wes Montgomery and Lightning Hopkins song possible. He told the story of the importance of being a good person to be a good musician, and that changed my life.
I started getting into Buddha and started spending more time investigating exactly what it means to be a good person even though I felt I was not a bad guy, but the fine details of what it really means to be a human, so I started to search out more.
B.B. for me was the essence of the blues, of really giving over the powerful emotion while at the same time being extremely humble and light on his feet to make people happy on and off the stage, which for me is extremely important.
I have met some disappointing famous musicians who are very different on and off the stage. So many players today are playing so many notes so fast, but B.B., with just a few notes, said it so much deeper and real.
Yet if you understand how great a musician he really was - and his playing was not simple at all - and there are many recordings of things that he did that no one is able to reproduce.
And it's not simply just the way he makes his tremolo melodic; he was very, very advanced, but would only do it if it would really fit what was needed; he would never do anything just to show off.
He knew how to be a great guitarist, which was really his greatness and that was the same thing with his personality.
His death has me searching to see if there's anything real left and it is not easy to find, even though there is a lot of talent. It's hard to hear music where there is no ego involved.
I met this great player and person who had backed up Lightning Hopkins for many years, his name is Bernie Pearl out in California. Also this guy Ronnie Stewart, who is a great blues musician and historian and has taken me under his wing and showed me some real old blues cats who have the same flavor and showed me the culture inside in a good way.
Q: The phrase "Keep the Blues Alive" is a currently popular adage. What do you see as the future of the blues across the U.S. and the world?
LL: I see the blues is spreading quickly and many are turning to it for some truth in soul-searching. Everyone has their own opinion about what the real blues is; I think with all the showing off and other plastic stuff going on within the scene, there is still plenty of real stuff happening if people want to find it.